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Brits in France - Home counties abroad

Brits in France - Home counties abroad

03 Sep 2013 BY Tim Wells

Five hundred and thirty-seven years after the end of the Hundred Years’ War, the British invasion of Aquitaine has finally made some permanent headway. For the first time, the occupying hordes from This Sceptred Isle make up the most numerous non-French population in the southwest of France, far outnumbering their counterparts from Morocco, Portugal, Spain and the rest of the 180 different nationalities that are represented in the region. According to the National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), nearly nine thousand new residents from Britain sought their place in the sun in the Dordogne between 1999 and 2009, bumping up the local British colony to some 16,000 and making it the most Anglicized region of France outside of Paris, with the Charente, the Charente-Maritime, and Lot-et-Garonne, and the Gers not far behind.  The south of the Périgord Pourpre, between Bergerac and Marmande, has long been known as “Dordogneshire” for its high concentration of UK expatriates. The village of Eymet has around 200 British families among its 2,600 inhabitants; it runs its own Cricket Club, and has seen the ITV series “Little England” devoted to local expat life.

The dream of a sun- (and red wine-) drenched lifestyle in beautiful countryside dotted with picturesque old villages has lured our chilled and overcrowded compatriots to these parts for ages, but in contrast to the influx of Brits during the 1980s and ‘90s, who were mostly seeking to enjoy a comfortable and well-heeled retirement, more recent arrivals have tended to be younger and less affluent, often with young families. They have often quite comprehensively pulled up stakes in the UK and have come with no intention to return. They are typically more enamoured of things “French”, even to the extent of learning the language! Their children, often born in France, are making up the first truly bilingual generation this country has known, and around here amusingly often pick up the quaint local accent with their bread: “more paing please Mum”! The ancient hostilities between the French and the English are thus giving way, in charming fashion, to an increasingly cordial entente.

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